Why do Arab reformers claim U.S. support is hurting them?

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Nov. 24 2004 5:26 PM

The Kiss of Death

Why do Arab reformers claim U.S. support is hurting them?

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The administration's incoherent policy partly explains why, as Slate contributor Michael Young explains, Colin Powell was ineffective in the region generally and humiliated by the Syrians in particular. Presumably, Condoleezza Rice's nomination for secretary of state is meant to keep the Bush administration on message. In any event, it's time for the policy debate between the neoconservatives and the "realists" to move on. Assuming the administration's policymakers are really serious about reform in the Arab world, we'll need good cops working along with the bad cops. If the White House simply maintains the pressure, the crisis will render the regimes incapable of any reform, and eventually they'll just crack down on real liberals and reformers. U.S. officials have to push hard and at the same time help the regimes enhance their own prestige.

First we must acknowledge that there are very few real reformers in any Middle Eastern regime. There are, however, plenty of pragmatists who can be convinced, through force and blandishments, that their privileged place in the world depends on their ability to cut deals. We need to identify, empower, and threaten these people.

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Next, and most important, we need to recognize that, like unhappy families, each regime is different and that each has its own needs, strengths, and weaknesses. There is no one way to peace and prosperity in the Middle East, and neither the road through Jerusalem nor Baghdad will get us there.

Lee Smith is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., and author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.